Black Women are Still Underrepresented in America’s Statehouses, New Report Shows

State Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, addresses the House during the House session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va.

State Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, addresses the House during the House session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. AP Photo/Steve Helber

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Georgia has the most Black women in its legislature, at 39, but in many states representation still lags.

Originally published by The 19th

A new report on Black women lawmakers shows their continued underrepresentation in state legislatures, including in states where a substantial number of Black women reside.

The report shows that of the 7,383 people who serve as lawmakers in statehouses, just 356 — or 4.8 percent — are Black women. The report uses data as of March 2021 and was released Monday by the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL Women) and the State Innovation Exchange.

It’s the most Black women to ever serve in America’s statehouses, which are still primarily made up of White men. But even the recent gains are woefully inadequate, said Krystal Leaphart, operations and policy associate for NOBEL Women. She said the underrepresentation affects what policy proposals actually advance in areas including health care, the economy and issues that intersect with social justice.

“We expect legislators to help those at the margins,” Leaphart said. “If the legislators who are there don’t have the experience to understand how these issues show up for us, there’s no way they can adequately legislate to fix them. The voices of the Black women who are there in legislatures are essential to help fix the problem.”

Del. Lashrecse Aird is one of them. First elected to the Virginia statehouse in 2015, the Democratic lawmaker has advanced a resolution to declare racism a public health crisis and a bill to ban public universities from using criminal history questions on admissions applications. Aird has also advocated for infant mortality and pregnancy-related death prevention efforts.

Aird said she has seen White male lawmakers express surprise that racial inequality exists in areas like traffic stops.

“If you don’t have the lived experience, it doesn’t matter how aware you are. It doesn’t matter how much education you have, it is not a part of your being and thereby you really don’t understand,” she said. “And oftentimes you’re not representing a community where this is part of their day-to-day life.”

Eight states, all with small Black populations, have no Black women lawmakers: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont. In 2018, Vermont’s sole Black woman lawmaker at the time resigned after she faced repeated racial harassment.

But Black women are also underrepresented in states where they make up a larger proportion of the population:

  • In Mississippi, Black women make up just over 19.3 percent of the population but about 7.4 percent of the state legislature.
  • In Louisiana, Black women make up just over 16.8 percent of the population but about 5.5 percent of the state legislature.
  • In South Carolina, Black women make up just over 13.3 percent of the population but about 7.6 percent of the state legislature.
  • In Tennessee, Black women make up just over 8.6 percent of the population but about 4.5 percent of the state legislature.

Georgia has the most Black women, at 39, or 16.2 percent of the legislature, reflective of the state’s population.

Emilia Sykes, a Democrat and Ohio House minority leader, described microaggressions during her time in office. After she was elected in 2014, she said, she was repeatedly stopped by Capitol security, even while wearing a lapel pin marking her as a lawmaker. Sykes said she and the few other Black women lawmakers were sometimes called the “diva caucus” as they worked together on policy. She never saw it as a compliment, and instead as a way to make it seem like they were difficult to work with. The women decided to get matching T-shirts in an effort to reclaim the description.

Sykes said she has also faced threats of violence, including against her and her father, who is also a state lawmaker.

“There’s still some apprehension about having women and Black women in particular in these bastions of power because state legislators for sure have way more power than people really give us credit for,” she said. “They know when we come in there we’re talking about paid family leave and an increase in the minimum wage … we’re talking about all things that make everybody’s lives better, but for people who’ve been operating under a system that works when you oppress others, it is a threat. And so they challenge us. And they make the job so much more difficult.”

Statehouses serve as a pipeline for Black women to run for higher office. Nikema Williams, now a congresswoman from Georgia, started in the statehouse. Before Karen Bass became a congresswoman for the state of California, she was a state lawmaker who also became the first Black woman to serve as speaker of any statehouse. 

Of the 142 women serving in the current Congress, 23 are Black, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Overall, 50, or 35.2 percent, are women of color. There are currently no Black women in the U.S. Senate.

Lauren Bealore, democracy director for State Innovation Exchange, emphasized the importance of elevating Black women in statehouses.

“The more Black women that you have across state legislatures and leading in state legislatures, the more representation that their communities and districts are seeing as well, which in turn creates a pipeline for more Black women to see themselves as legislators,” she said.

There has been a rise in Black women state lawmakers in recent years, according to a report released in 2019 by Higher Heights and CAWP. A February 2021 report from the Reflective Democracy Campaign shows from 2016 to 2020, Black women’s representation in state legislatures increased at a rate of 28 percent, from 3.3 percent to 4.3 percent.

Bealore said there are solutions to address the inequities reflected in the latest report. Organizations that fund legislative races, as well as small-dollar donors, must support Black women candidates. And state lawmakers themselves have to support current Black women who seek leadership positions within statehouses.

Bealore said the report is a call to action.

“It’s really a call to all who believe that we need a functioning representative democracy in this country,” she said. “Without proper awareness of Black women seeking leadership, investments in Black women in office, and then the commitment to support those Black women, we’ll just continue to be underrepresented in government.”

Barbara Rodriguez is a statehouses reporter at The 19th

NEXT STORY: This Billionaire Governor’s Coal Companies Owe Millions More in Environmental Fines

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.